For those who aren't old enough to remember, Tonya Harding was a skating phenomenon – the first American and second woman to ever land the triple axel in competition. When rival US skater Nancy Kerrigan was brutally attacked before a competition, speculation eventually led its way to Harding (Margot Robbie). It came to light that her former husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and his bonehead friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser), conspired to assault Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). Eventually, Harding was convicted and served a lifetime ban from professional skating.
I, Tonya is a fantastic movie bristling with chaotic energy. It possesses that locomotive feeling of a film like Goodfellas. We get to watch a hard-fought rise with the knowledge that a stupendous fall is looming over the horizon. I know the whole internet, and its mother hates narration as a device, but I think it works so well at helping the audience feel empathy with the good and bad of Tonya's life.
The way the film is structured is so much fun. Interspersed with the action are interviews with the principal agents of the story (presumably in the 'present'), which acts as narration. The multiple viewpoints introduce the concept of an unreliable narrator. Each participant has their take on how the infamous events unfolded, leaving it up to you to choose your truth.
That said, the story is told, mostly, from Harding's perspective. She leads us on a journey that starts with her tough childhood, spent with her physically and emotionally abusive mother – and Allison Janney does a fantastic job as the stone-hearted LaVonna Golden. Tonya grows, becomes a skilled skater and a woman and eventually meets her sad-sack husband, Gillooly, leading to more abuse by his hands (which Gillooly has always disputed).
Skating features heavily (of course), and those scenes are filled with tension and suspense. It reminded me of the way Black Swan made me "get" ballet, the knowledge of the hard work that skating requires made me "get" figure skating. Although the dodgy CGI was almost an impediment, it still managed to get the job done.
Naturally, the crux of the story is the attack on Nancy Kerrigan and figuring how much Tonya Harding was complicit in the whole affair. Obviously, coming from Tonya Harding, we get a different view on events, and it is up to the viewer to decide whether or not to believe them – unreliable narrator and all. But the way the ordeal is portrayed is dark comedic gold, which some may argue does a disservice to Kerrigan and the genuine pain and distress she was forced to suffer. How that makes you feel is up to you, brotherman/sistergirl.
But after the infamy, the film then turns to us, the audience. I, Tonya asks the viewer to rethink their approach to celebrity outrage. Whether right or wrong, it takes a look at what these punchlines and jokes can do to a person. How does it feel to be truly hated and ridiculed by people who don't know you?
Whether you agree with it or not, it is hard not to have fun with I, Tonya. Margot Robbie does a fantastic job as Tonya Harding. The rest of the cast is stellar, and the direction is sublime – a definite must see.